So far in 2014, Mujica is clearly ineffective. In 9 innings this season, the Venezuelan righty has allowed 10 runs on 14 hits for a 2.00 WHIP and a hefty 10.00 ERA. It does not take a rocket scientist to realize Mujica is getting hit hard in the early going. So much for that bargain idea.
Why in the first place did anyone consider him a bargain? Well, here’s an explanation. In his first season as a full-time closer with St. Louis last season, Mujica was 37/41 in save opportunities with a WHIP just over 1.00, and walked only 5 batters in 64.2 innings pitched. Only three other free-agent relievers totaled 37 saves in 2013. Joe Nathan, Grant Balfour, and Fernando Rodney all signed with teams promising them the closer’s job while Mujica did not. You may wonder why.
Mujica was 35 for 37 in save situations with a 1.72 ERA, and an incredible strikeout/walk ratio of 38-2 in 52.1 innings heading into September last year. Uehara-like stats. But that was when the wheels fell off the bus amidst nagging neck and groin injuries. Mujica drove his market away with an unsightly 11.05 ERA in the final month of the regular season. He gave up 9 runs on 18 hits in 7.1 innings over 10 appearances, eerily similar to his start this year.
Upon the Mujica signing, people in Boston raved about his impeccable command and strike-throwing habits. I figured Mujica to be a solid insurance policy for an aging Koji Uehara. Uehara logged 74.1 innings in 2013, easily the largest total of his career, not including a deep run into October. At 38 years old, Koji pitched another 13.2 innings in the playoffs, for a season total of 88 innings in 86 appearances. A man now 39 years of age cannot sustain such a workload in consecutive seasons without breaking down.
Last night was a prime example of Mujica’s inability to give Uehara a day off. He entered a 7-2 game against the Rays in the ninth inning, mainly to get in some work and build up his confidence. Instead he allowed a lead-off double to James Loney and walked Wil Myers. David DeJesus was the first out of the inning, but an infield single yielded 2 runs to bring the Rays within three at 7-4. Ryan Hanigan flied out to right, but John Farrell was not willing to let Mujica face Ben Zobrist with 2 outs. Uehara’s appearance was unnecessary until Mujica created an opportunity for the Rays to get back into the game.
Uehara finished the game with a three-pitch strikeout, but that is besides the point. He came into the game after warming up two times. Relievers do not like warming up multiple times. When they get up, they want to get into a game or sit down for the night. Getting up and down is certainly not an ideal situation for a 39 year old veteran coming off the biggest workload of his career. The Red Sox need another reliable man to keep Uehara fresh for the toughest situations, and so far Mujica is not the guy.
A miserable September blurs into April for Edward Mujica. According to heat maps, Mujica’s splitter location is a major problem. So far in 2014, his splitter stays up in the zone early in the count, opposed to last year where most were down and out of the zone inducing grounders and swings-and-misses.
The location problems could likely stem from bad mechanical habits Mujica formed pitching through those neck and groin injuries. It may take some time for him to iron out those habits and get back to his delivery from his successful run last year. For now, as Mujica’s September struggles carry into 2014, Red Sox nation borrows a line from Green Day - Wake me up when September ends.